The other side to institutions and professions, a side long recognized by even the harshest critics of professional power, is that they create non-material cultures that insulate workers from the ravages of the free market. Professions create an alternative reward system in which status and pay are determined not simply though the workings of the market, but through alternate hierarchies of worth. And it is the dismantling of these alternate hierarchies that I think Starkman is really angry about in his piece. Notice, too, the organizations that Emily Bell praises in her response to Starkman: The Guardian, The New York Times, Andy Carvin at NPR, Ushahidi, Global Voices, and ProPublica. What all of these organizations have in common is that most of them are insulated, to some degree or another, from the ravages of the market. Even those openly market-oriented news organizations like The New York Times have powerful, mitigating professional cultures that, however obnoxious they might occasionally be, protect their workers from feeling like timecard-punching drones…
The problem, in short, may not be institutions, networks, or the Internet. The problem might be capitalism — or, if that sounds too radical, then perhaps the problem is the libertarian ethos that is also embedded in the Silicon Valley roots of the future of news consensus, an ethos which often renders it incapable of seeing any value to institutions at all. If the problem with journalism, in addition to its hidebound structures of power and its arrogant professionals, is that it has been a free-rider on a non-functional informational marketplace, then the collapse of structures designed to insulate it from the market is an unalloyed good. This is what I think many of those working on the edges of the future of news space seem to believe.
If, on the other hand, you think that the free market (historically, and also in its most brutal current form) has been a problem for journalism rather than a boon, then you might wince in horror to see one of the last barriers to that market collapse in a cloud of digital dust.
Read it all. Read all three of these pieces, while you’re at it.